Software Development Teams – What is the Ideal Organization?

Before considering the characteristics of the Ideal Development Organization, it is important to consider briefly whether such a thing even exists. Certainly, there is not an ideal process, technology, or organizational structure for a development organization. All of those aspects depend on the products developed, the industry, the corporate culture, and the firm’s strategic goals, among other things. It is also important to realize that all of these aspects evolve over time. While there may not be a perfect development organization or even a “one size fits all” development process, high performing development organizations share certain perspectives and common characteristics. We can divide these characteristics into two categories, the perspectives of various stakeholder groups, and characteristics of the organization’s technology and processes.

We will begin with the perspectives of the different stakeholder groups. It is important to note that the key lies in balancing these perspectives. Enhancing the perception of one group at the expense of the others will not produce an Ideal Development Organization. The first stakeholder group we will discuss is the user. This group perceives the development organization as ideal if the products have value to them,
the products work reliably, the products improve, and in some industries if the products are unique or use innovative technology where appropriate. The Business Leaders in the organization will perceive the development organization as ideal if they consistently meet their commitments, apply technologies to enhance the business, and use their understanding of the industry and customers to generate novel ideas. The Technical Leaders in the organization will view the development organization as ideal if they meet commitments, are improving their capabilities and capacity, and using technology to further the business. Finally, the individual contributors in the organization will perceive it as an ideal development organization if they feel that they are enhancing their careers and making an important contribution to the company. It is apparent that there is some overlap in the views of the stakeholders, but there are also some unique viewpoints of each group to consider when building or evolving your development organization.

Ideal Development Organizations will also share some characteristics about their processes and technologies. In the area of processes, the organization will have established enough process to ensure success and repeatability, but not so much as it slows the organization down. Like many things, this is a constant balancing act. The other primary characteristic that organizations share with respect to process is that it is continually evolving. In the area of technology, the organization will be using appropriate technologies for their products and industry, but will also spend some amount of time researching new technologies. There will be individuals in the organization that are expert in core technologies and all technologists will advance their skills.

As you can see, there are some common characteristics of all high performing development organizations. Moving towards these models will enhance the business value of any development organization, regardless of the specific processes or technologies used.

Judi Otton is a principal with Advanced Decisions (, a consulting firm that specializes in product development. Judi consults with growing technology companies on product development process, software development life cycle and product management. Prior to joining Advanced Decisions, Judi was an executive at ESPN, where she led the application development organization in deploying applications across several Walt Disney business units, and in instituting effective development processes that reduced support and maintenance costs. Prior to ESPN, Judi was at Transcentive, where she led their application development effort and helped launch their global product line, bringing new software products and services to market. As a former practitioner herself, Judi brings depth of hands-on management and development experience to clients in addressing the unique challenges they face in bringing their products/applications to

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